This Competition Wants to Make Voting Cool on Campus
Bernie Sanders rallies this year were packed with young people carrying signs and chanting, “Feel the Bern.” Yet individuals of college age are one of the groups least likely to vote, and they routinely don’t show up to the polls. Changing that trend is the main goal of the All In Campus Democracy Challenge, a campaign launching on July 7 that hopes to boost civic engagement.
“We don’t care who they vote for. We just want students to vote,” Zaneeta E. Daver, the challenge’s director, told TakePart. “A lot of research shows that once you start voting, you’ll continue to vote.”
The effort, started by the Washington, D.C.–based nonpartisan nonprofit Civic Nation, “recognizes postsecondary campuses committed to improving democratic engagement, increasing student voter participation rates, and graduating students with a lifelong commitment to being informed and active citizens,” according to its website. Individual schools that pledge to participate agree to support activities directed to these goals, and the campaign plans to give schools awards for exemplary efforts.
“The ultimate goal is to get as close to 100 percent [voter participation] as possible,” Daver said. “If you can get the majority of college students participating, I think that’s really important so that that age group’s voice is being heard when decisions are being made about the future of the country.”
In 2012, only 38 percent of eligible voters ages 18 to 24 voted in the presidential election. Daver said most students who come to college have never voted, so it’s an important time to teach them about their role in the nation’s democracy and instill patterns of regular participation in elections. The most common time for people to start consistently voting is when they buy a house and they feel they’re part of the community, Daver said. She hopes the challenge will help students start to value voting by the time they graduate and well before they’re picking out a place to live so that it’s a habit by the time they put down roots.
So far, 49 schools across the country have signed up for the challenge, and Daver anticipates that more will register when the program officially launches. The challenge will serve as a conduit between organizations that work directly with colleges to host events and provide student voting resources and the individual campus administrators.
Along with being connected to resources, campuses that register for the competition will also participate in the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, which provides campuses with voting statistics that show how many people are registering, how many are voting, and whether there’s a gap between the two. The study also collects demographic information about the voters at each school, which can be broken down by gender, major, age, and ethnicity, among other factors. Daver said school administrators can use that data to tailor their approach and target programs to the less active voting groups.
The challenge hopes to spur universities and colleges to produce graduates who take part in decision-making processes by casting their votes.
“Over the long term, we want to see the culture change so that people aren’t talking about democratic engagement only when there’s a presidential election or a big national election,” Daver said. “We want them to talk about this with their students every year for the four years that they’re in college.”